Clearly, the mountains are the main attraction here. Before you get out onto the ice and snow, make your way to the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre, the Hermitage (tel. 0800/686-800 in NZ, or 03/435-1641; www.hillarycentre.co.nz), which showcases the Mount Cook area. It features a 3-D movie, New Zealand's first full dome, a digital planetarium, a museum, and gallery that documents the pioneering heart of the region and Sir Edmund's long association with the Mount Cook region. Museum admission is NZ$25 for adults, NZ$13 for children, and NZ$50 for families. There are combo packages that include the planetarium, movie, and wine tasting in the cafe.
The Mount Cook area is also the access point for the beautiful Tasman Glacier. If you missed the scenic glacier flights at Fox and Franz Josef, you'll have another chance here. Go with award-winning Air Safaris (tel. 0800/806-880 in NZ, or 03/680-6880; www.airsafaris.co.nz). Its 50-minute Grand Traverse leaves from Lake Tekapo and flies over the McKenzie Basin and lakes, around Mount Cook, over 12 major glaciers, across the Main Divide to the Westland World Heritage National Parks, to the West Coast Glaciers, and back to Lake Tekapo. This stunning flight costs NZ$285 for adults and NZ$210 for children ages 3 to 13. Mount Cook Ski Planes, Mount Cook Airport (tel. 0800/800-702 in NZ, or 03/430-8034; www.mtcookskiplanes.com), is the only company licensed to land scenic flights on Tasman Glacier and in Mount Cook National Park. Their stunning fixed-wing flights cost NZ$230 to NZ$450.
The Helicopter Line (tel. 0800/650-651 in NZ, or 03/435-1801; www.helicopter.co.nz) has several tours, such as the Alpine Wonderland, a 45-minute flight which covers Mount Cook, the Main Divide, and Tasman Glacier for NZ$420 per person. This includes a glacier landing. Mention Frommer's and you'll get a 10% discount when booking direct. All helicopter operations in the Mount Cook area are based at Glentanner Helicopter Base, 15 minutes from Mount Cook Village. All fixed-wing craft operate from Mount Cook Airport.
Skiers will head for the Tasman Glacier during the June-to-October season, but know in advance that skiing here is neither cheap nor for novices. Skiing on the glaciers involves two runs of about 11km (7 miles) each, with ski planes returning you to the top after the first run and flying you out at the end of the day. The glacier is perfect for intermediate-grade skiers; it's a long distance, but not steep. The full-day excursion costs from NZ$850 and can be booked through Alpine Guides (tel. 03/435-1834; www.alpineguides.co.nz), which also rents ski and climbing equipment and can organize guides to take you mountain climbing as well. Their 6- to 10-day guided ascents and courses cost from NZ$2,000 to NZ$5,000.
If you prefer something a little less expensive, park conservation offices can furnish a map of easy walks, which take anywhere from half an hour to half a day -- you'll be able to commune with Mother Nature to your heart's content.
Glacier Explorers, Mount Cook Village (tel. 0800/686-800; www.glacierexplorers.com), can take you on an unbelievable 3-hour boat ride on Tasman Glacier Lake for NZ$120 for adults and NZ$60 for children ages 4 to 15. These tours only operate from mid-September through May (providing the lake is not frozen), and they include a 15-minute drive followed by a 30-minute walk to the lake.
Special Moment: Night Skies
The skies above Lake Tekapo are renowned as some of the clearest in the world. That's why the top of Mount John is dotted with assorted international observatories. Visit this unique and fascinating spot for extraordinary night skies (and breathtaking daytime views) with Earth & Sky Observatory, Mount John, Tekapo (tel. 03/680-6960; www.earthandsky.co.nz). Their 1-hour day tour costs NZ$30 for adults and NZ$15 for children ages 5 to 15. The 2-hour night tour costs NZ$75 for adults and NZ$45 for children ages 5 to 15. Either should be on your must-do list.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.