When I was planning our three week trip to New Zealand, I knew I wanted to include Aoraki Mt Cook, New Zealand’s tallest mountain, in our itinerary. I wanted to spend a few days enjoying the scenic Southern Alps and I wanted to find accommodation in Mt Cook Village so we didn’t have to drive too far.
But I also wanted to do it all on a budget! I kept being told that Mt Cook was an expensive place to stay and had extremely limited accommodation. Knowing that New Zealand is pretty expensive in general I was, of course, nervous.
After lots of searching, I ended up finding an awesome hotel right in the village at an affordable rate. This seemed too good to be true, so I was skeptical as we pulled into the parking lot. But after our three day stay in April 2023, I’m ready to declare it the best budget accommodation in Mt Cook.
Keep reading to learn all about this budget hotel in Mount Cook Village, and my picks for accommodation in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park for luxury travellers, campers, hostel-lovers and everyone in between. Plus, I’ll share how to get to Mt Cook, how long to stay and what to do once you’re there.
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Why visit Aoraki Mount Cook, New Zealand?
Aoraki Mount Cook is New Zealand’s tallest mountain, at over 12,000 feet, and most famously was the training ground for Sir Edmund Hillary. Hillary was the first person to summit Mount Everest, alongside his Sherpa mountaineer, Tenzing Norgay. Aoraki is nestled within the Southern Alps in the middle of the South Island and next to New Zealand’s longest glacier.
Ngāi Tahu legend tells us that Aoraki is named after one of the sons of the Sky Father. While out canoeing with his brothers, the canoe overturned and the southern wind froze the brothers in place. The canoe became the South Island and Aoraki and his brothers became the Southern Alp Mountains. The Mt Cook part of the name comes from explorer James Cook who completed the first recorded circumnavigation of New Zealand.
If you’re a climber, a visit to Aoraki Mount Cook National Park is a no brainer. But even if you’re not (I’m certainly not!) Aoraki Mount Cook is still a great place to visit to experience Aotearoa’s (the Māori word for New Zealand) beautiful alpine scenery. There are lots of things to do at Mt Cook like tracks and trails to hike, stargazing opportunities and, of course, stunning views. You can also get up close to the mountains and glaciers on a helicopter ride or boat trip.
But where should you stay at Mt Cook? Let’s check out some great Mt Cook accommodation options:
The best budget accommodation in Mt Cook: Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Lodge
In my opinion, the best budget accommodation in Mt Cook is Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Lodge. Since accommodation in Mt Cook is so limited, this is one of the few places to stay and almost the only one where you can stay on a budget.
Now, remember that “budget” is relative. As I mentioned, lodging directly in Mt Cook Village is very limited and therefore more expensive. This was one of the priciest accommodations in our New Zealand trip budget but we were really happy with our stay and loved being right in the heart of the action.
We booked a Deluxe Studio with Mountain View (which included a kitchenette) and stayed three nights, Thursday to Sunday, in April 2023. Our stay cost $216 NZD per night ($126 USD per night). That rate included free parking and free cancellation.
In addition to self catering studios, the lodge also has family rooms, bunk rooms, apartments and an 8-person Mt Cook chalet available to book.
Mt Cook budget hotel review: My stay at Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Lodge
When we first arrived at the lodge, we pulled into an open parking spot that just so happened to be across from our room. We grabbed our bags and went to check in with the sweetest reception. She was super friendly and eagre to answer any questions we had.
Our Deluxe Studio was located on the ground floor. The room itself was quite spacious and comfortable; we had a large bed, small couch, table with two chairs, ensuite bathroom, hanging rack, and kitchenette with a sink, mini fridge, microwave, kettle and dishware. Our room also had a patio with two chairs where we could see Aoraki Mt Cook in the distance!
While not a luxury room, it had everything we needed for a three day stay. I was worried the room might feel kind of dingy but I was pleasantly surprised to find it very clean and comfortable. I was looking for self catering accommodation in Mt Cook and was very happy to have the kitchenette so we could save money by making some of our own meals.
In addition to our room, the lodge also has a guest lounge that everyone has access to. It was actually photos of this lounge that sold me on booking the Mt Cook Alpine Lodge for our stay!
The guest lounge has a huge communal kitchen that is extremely well stocked and ready to use. There are two stoves, two ovens, three fridges, three sinks and tons of prep space. This is not your average shared hotel kitchen! Considering Mt Cook Village only has a couple of restaurants and most are expensive, having access to cooking facilities at your Mt Cook hotel is a huge plus.
The lounge also has board games, books and a satellite TV, as well as lots of comfy couches and tables to sit at.
But the best part of the guest lounge has to be the view! The lounge looks like a ski chalet in Switzerland, complete with wooden A-frame construction and a wall of windows that look out at the stunning scenery. We spent a lovely afternoon chilling on the couches and eating snacks on the balcony, all while admiring the beautiful view of Aoraki Mt Cook.
The Mt Cook lodge also offers free parking, coin laundry, bike rentals and a small on-site shop at reception. This is very helpful if you forget something, as Mt Cook Village doesn’t have a lot of services. You’ll want to stock up on any groceries, fuel and money (there’s no ATM) before you arrive.
Despite Mt Cook Village not having many amenities, I loved that the Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Lodge was located directly in the village. It was a short drive to the start of the Hooker Valley Track and other popular trails, plus we could walk over to the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park Visitor Centre and other sites in the village. And, of course, accommodation in Mt Cook Village offers the best views!
In case it wasn’t clear, I highly recommend the Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Lodge for your stay in Mt Cook. It was affordable, clean and comfortable, with spacious rooms, and an incredible lounge and kitchen. The views, the location and the price can’t be beat!
Luxury accommodation in Mt Cook you can splurge on: The Hermitage Hotel
If you’re looking to splurge, the best accommodation in Mt Cook is The Hermitage Hotel. A four star hotel with highly rated dining and activities, The Hermitage is the perfect place for a luxury stay, plus has a storied history in the area.
The original Hermitage was built in 1884. Visitors in those days arrived by horse-drawn coach, a journey that took them three days over the mountainous terrain! After a number of floods and fires, a second version of the Hermitage was opened in 1914. Sadly, another fire took that building down in 1957 but the government worked quickly and Hermitage 3.0 was opened in 1958. It’s been expanding and welcoming guests ever since!
You can book one of the 164 rooms at The Hermitage Hotel, which all offer stunning views of Aoraki Mt Cook, in the heart of the upper village. Rates start at $375 NZD ($218 USD) per night for a Standard Mt Cook View Queen Room, the hotel’s most affordable room. For their most luxurious room, Premium Plus King, rates start at $605 NZD ($352 USD) per night.
For a slightly more budget-friendly alternative, Hermitage also has their Mount Cook Lodge and Mount Cook Motels. Both offer more affordable (though less luxurious) rooms in the lower village; lodge rooms start at $295 NZD ($171 USD) per night and motel rooms start at $325 NZD ($189 USD) per night. These could be a great compromise if The Hermitage Hotel proper isn’t in your budget, you don’t need an Aoraki Mt Cook view and you don’t mind being in the lower village.
In addition to beautiful rooms and a long legacy in the area, The Hermitage Hotel is also well known for its dining and activities. Even if you’re not staying at the hotel, you can make a dinner reservation or book one of their activities. Click here to learn more about their restaurants and meal services, and here to check out the experiences they offer.
Where to stay in Mt Cook: 4 more options for accommodation in Mt Cook Village
Accommodation in Mt Cook Village is limited. It’s a very small village – in fact, “village” is a generous term – and there are only a few places to stay. I really loved staying in the village and not having to drive in each day, so I do recommend it. But you’ll definitely want to book early to secure your spot!
If you’re not staying at my pick for cheap accommodation in Mt Cook, Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Lodge, and if you’re not wanting to splurge on luxury accommodation in Mt Cook at The Hermitage Hotel, here are your other main options in the village:
Best self catering accommodation in Mt Cook for groups: Aoraki Court Motel
Aoraki Court Motel provides “luxury accommodation within the Aoraki/Mt Cook Village at an affordable price.” They offer studio and two bedroom units, all with views of the surrounding mountain range. Their Executive Shower Studio with kitchenette starts at $315 NZD ($183 USD) per night and their 2 bedroom unit with full kitchen starts at $375 NZD ($218 USD) per night.
If you’re travelling with a group or family, their 2 bedroom unit sounds like a great deal. For $375 NZD per night, you can sleep five people in a really spacious and nicely decorated suite, plus have your own complete kitchen.
Best cheap accommodation in Mt Cook (if you don’t mind sharing): YHA Aoraki Mt Cook
YHA Aoraki Mt Cook is the only hostel in Mount Cook Village, perfect for travellers on a budget. It’s a solar-powered alpine lodge with dorm and private rooms, as well as communal lounges and cooking facilities. While I’m not usually a hostel person, I have to say that this one looks fantastic! The log cabin feel is really attractive and it gets great reviews, plus they just did renovations in 2023, so it’s looking better than ever.
Note that while YHA started out as a youth hostel, it’s open to travellers of all ages. Children are also welcome but those under 18 “must be accompanied by an adult and either stay in a private room or a privatised dorm if arranged with the hostel.”
Dorm room rates start at $59 NZD ($34 USD) per night per person in a 10 bed dorm up to $74 NZD ($43 USD) per night per person in a 3 bed dorm. Female or mixed dorms are available. There’s also a private twin room with rates starting at $206 NZD ($120 USD) per night per room. Note that all of the room have shared bathrooms (no ensuites) and there’s a charge to rent towels if you don’t bring your own.
If you’re on a budget and don’t mind sharing a room and/or bathroom, YHA is definitely the way to go.
Best versatile accommodation just outside of Mt Cook: Glentanner Park
Note: This property is not in Mount Cook Village but a 20 minute drive away. However I wanted to include it, as some people won’t mind the 20 minute drive and it comes highly recommended by fellow NZ travel enthusiasts. It’s also the only RV park and campground in the area.
Glentanner Park offers accommodation for every kind of traveller. They have motel rooms with kitchens and ensuite bathrooms (from $280 NZD/$163 USD), basic units with 1-2 beds (from $170 NZD/$99 USD), small bunk rooms that sleep up to 7 (from $160 NZD/$93USD), large bunk rooms that sleep up to 10 (from $180 NZD/$105USD), and a 10-bed dorm (from $45 NZD/$26 USD per person). For campers and campervaners, there are powered sites (from $30 NZD/$17 USD per person) and non-powered sites (from $27 NZD/$16 USD per person).
The park features a souvenir shop, visitor centre, cafe, hot showers for campers, coin laundry, a BBQ and picnic area, and kitchen and dining facilities. You can also take off on the Glentanner High Country Heli Hike from the park.
Best camping in Mt Cook: White Horse Hill Campground
The best accommodation in Mt Cook for true campers on a budget would be White Horse Hill Campground. This campground is run by the DOC (Department of Conservation) and is very basic. There are non-powered sites for tents or campervans, flush toilets and drinking water. Note that those facilities are reduced during the winter (June-August).
White Horse Hill Campground is located by the start of the Hooker Valley Track, a five minute drive from Mount Cook Village. Fees are $15-18 NZD per person and bookings must be made in advance.
If you’re happy with a basic campground, and have your own tent or camper, this is a great way to experience Aoraki Mt Cook on a budget!
2 alternatives to Mount Cook hotels
If the limited accommodation in Mt Cook doesn’t suit your needs or is all booked up, you can choose to stay farther away and drive in for the day. Many Mt Cook visitors stay in Twizel, the closest “big” town where those who stay in Mount Cook Village are encouraged to get their fuel and groceries before arriving.
While Twizel is a bigger town with more amenities and more accommodation options, it is an hour’s drive to Aoraki Mount Cook. Luckily, the drive is along Lake Pukaki, meaning it’s extremely scenic. However, it’s still an hour there and an hour back, which cuts into your time at Aoraki Mount Cook National Park.
If Twizel doesn’t do it for you, you could also stay in Tekapo. Tekapo is about 75 minutes from Aoraki Mt Cook by car and, like Twizel, offers more accommodation and amenity options than Mount Cook Village. While Tekapo is farther than Twizel, it has the benefit of being an attraction in its own right.
Many people plan a trip to Lake Tekapo before or after their time at Aoraki Mt Cook (that was our plan but we were enjoying Mt Cook too much to leave). Tekapo’s stunning lakefront boasts beautiful lupins in the spring, a picturesque church, an observatory for stargazing and hot springs.
Find your perfect hotel in Twizel or Lake Tekapo:
Is it worth staying at Mt Cook?
I believe it is worth staying directly at Mt Cook in the Aoraki Mount Cook Village. While accommodation options are more limited, and therefore more expensive, there should still be something to suit every budget and travel style if you book in advance.
If you don’t stay in the village, your closest options (Twizel and Lake Tekapo) are still a 1+ hour away, meaning at least a few hours of driving to get to Mt Cook, drive around the area, and back. Once you factor in the cost of fuel and time lost, it might not be that much more expensive to just stay in a Mt Cook hotel!
The other issue with staying outside of the village is that if you only do a day trip to Mt Cook, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get good weather. They say you can see Aoraki Mt Cook one out of every three days; the other days it’s covered by the clouds. So if you’re only driving up once, you have to cross your fingers it’s a clear day!
How many days do you need in Mt Cook?
I would recommend 2-3 days in Mt Cook. While you can visit on a day trip, I really think this area needs a few days to explore and enjoy properly. Plus, since Aoraki Mt Cook isn’t visible every day, staying a few nights means you better your chances of getting a good view!
Two nights in Aoraki Mt Cook National Park gives you a good amount of time to enjoy the views, head out on a few hikes and relax at your accommodation. You could also squeeze in a helicopter, ski-plane or boat ride, but you may need an extra day to do it all.
As Mt Cook is an expensive area to stay and dining options are very limited, I wouldn’t recommend more than 2-3 days unless you’re really into mountain walks and climbing. We were pushing our budget by staying three nights. That’s why I chose self catering accommodation in Mt Cook with a kitchenette and communal kitchen so we could cook our own meals and free activities, like hikes, all so we could save some money.
How to get to Aoraki Mt Cook
As Aoraki Mount Cook is located in the middle of a mountain range, there’s only one way to access the village, mountains and national park. You’ll need to drive Highway 80 along Lake Pukaki. Unfortunately that means if you’re coming from other Southern Alp destinations, like Franz Josef and Hokitika, you’ll have to drive the long way around (6+ hours to Mount Cook).
Most visitors self-drive to Aoraki Mount Cook from elsewhere on the South Island, but you can also join a tour (see below!). There used to be an Intercity bus from Lake Tekapo to Mount Cook Village but it’s currently unavailable.
Here are the drive times to Aoraki Mt Cook from other major cities on the South Island:
- 1 hour from Twizel
- 75 minutes from Tekapo
- 2.5 hours from Wanaka
- 3.5 hours from Queenstown
- 4 hours from Christchurch
- 4 hours from Dunedin
Don’t want to drive? Check out this day tour to Mt Cook and Lake Tekapo from Christchurch or this day tour to Mt Cook from Queenstown!
Top things to do at Mount Cook
The best things to do at Aoraki Mount Cook are go on a hike, learn more about the area and enjoy the views. I’m not a big hiker by any stretch but loved walking the Hooker Valley Track – one of the most popular and scenic trails in the area. The views were incredible and the track was great for beginner hikers like me. I also loved learning more about Aoraki at the extremely well put together Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park Visitor Centre.
Adrenaline junkies can head out on a helicopter or ski-plane, or take to the water on Tasman Lake in a glacial boat or kayak. There’s also stargazing in the International Dark Sky Reserve, a museum dedicated to Sir Edmund Hillary, a planetarium, and more!
Final thoughts: Finding accommodation in Mt Cook
While it was our most expensive accommodation during our three weeks in New Zealand, I’m so glad we chose to stay at Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Lodge. We got great bang for our buck, and got to stay in a really awesome hotel with incredible views. Plus, being right in Mount Cook Village allowed us to enjoy our three days in the area so much more.
I hope this post has inspired you to put Aoraki Mt Cook on your bucket list and to book your stay in the village. Trust me, waking up to those mountain views is not something you’ll regret!