Hands down one of my favorites hikes I have ever taken part of is the Mueller Hut Track in Mt Cook National Park on the South Island of New Zealand. From the grueling ascent to the jaw dropping views, it is a hike that has it all.
If you are heading to New Zealand anytime soon and think you are up for the challenge, then this guide is for you. It will go over everything you will need to know to take part of the Mueller Hut Track and get you going in the right direction when you hit the trail. Believe me, this is one you will not forget!
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1) Mueller Hut Track Overview
While the Mueller Hut Track is one of my most memorable hikes, it does not come easy.
The ascent (and descent) is no joke and it can get technical at times. If you are not comfortable with a ton of elevation gain in a short distance, you will need to think through if this hike is for you.
On the other hand, if you are one who loves to ascend some mountains to get some spectacular views, then the Mueller Hut is right up your alley.
Below are some important round trip trail statistics to know for the climb to give you a bit more insight on what to expect.
- Name: Mueller Hut Track
- Starting & Ending Point: White Horse Hill Parking Lot
- Length: 10.4 KM / 6.5 Miles Round Trip
- Elevation Gain: 1,040 Meters / 3,412 Feet
- Time: 7-8 Hours
- Terrain: Dirt Path / Stairs / Rock Scramble
- Track Type: There and Back (Return via Same Trail)
- DOC Trail Guide: Muellur Hut
As you can see from the above statistics, over the course of just 5.2 km / 3.2 miles, you will be gaining over 1,000 meters / 3,400 feet. That is certainly a lot of elevation for such a short distance. Of course, the way down will offer a quicker and easier descent, but it still will come with its difficulties.
While many people take on this hike in a single day, there is also the option to stay overnight in the hut and make it a 2 day hike. I will talk more about that option later on.
Read on to learn more about the Mueller Hut hike and how to get yourself prepared for your time out on trail!
2) Background & History
Before diving further into the hiking track, I thought it may be helpful to give a brief background and history of the Mueller Hut and how it came to be.
→ The nearby Mueller Glacier was named after a German Australian botanist & explorer – Ferdinand von Mueller. Since the glacier was named after him, why not the hut as well!
→ The original Mueller Hut was built all the way back in 1914. However, this present day hut is actually the 5th hut that was built. Over the years, the four other huts that had been built were either taken down or destroyed.
→ Today’s Mueller Hut was opened back in 2003 by Sir Edmund Hillary. The reason being is that Mt Olivier, which sits just above the Mueller Hut, was his first major ascent.
Today, visitors have the chance to hike up to the Mueller Hut, enjoying some of the best views of Mount Cook National Park. As mentioned, for those that want to make more of an experience out of it, staying in the hut overnight is also an option.
3) Mueller Hut Route Starting Point
The official starting point for the Mueller Hut track is located at the White Horse Hill Campground. At the campground you will find a large parking lot, where you can park before heading off for the hike.
In addition, you will find a couple other trailheads at the campground including Kea Point, Hooker Valley, and Sealy Tarns (which is just part of the Mueller Hut track).
The campground is located just 2 km / 1.2 miles from Mt Cook Village, and the drive should take less than five minutes.
Since the starting point of the Mueller Hut track is so close to the village, you can also begin your hike right from there.
If you make your way to the Hermitage Hotel, you will find a trailhead leading to the White Horse Hill Campground. Expect the hike to take around 30-45 minutes to the campground.
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4) Mueller Hut Track Map
To give you a better sense of the general route, below you can find the Mueller Hut track map.
The starting & ending point at the White Horse Hill Campground is pinned down, followed by the route to Sealy Tarns and the Mueller Hut itself.
5) Mueller Hut Weather & Webcam
I say this a lot when it comes to mountain hikes but if you want to get the most out of this trail you need to pay attention to the weather forecasts. Hiking in cloudy/rainy conditions will not be the same experience as hiking on a clear day.
If you want to take in the views (and believe me you do!) then try and be as flexible as you can when deciding when to take part of the trail.
Remember that the weather down in the valley and village may not be the same at another 1,000+ meters up in the sky.
Spending additional days in the Mt Cook area to account for poor weather would be my recommendation in general. If you have a poor weather day, when the Mueller Hut just isn’t feasible, you can opt for a hike down in the valley. Then spend your better weather window heading up on this hike.
When deciding which day to take part, I recommend taking a look at the Mueller Hut weather on Meteoblue. Keep an eye on cloud coverage, rain probability, and number of sun hours as it gets closer to your time around Mount Cook.
While there are not webcams situated at the Mueller Hut, you will find webcams situated down in Mt Cook Village at the Hermitage Hotel looking up at Mt Cook itself.
This can give you a better idea of what the weather is looking like as you make your way to Mt Cook Village.
Hiking Resources & Checklist
Before heading out for the trails, be sure to read up on some of the hiking resources up on the site. These are here to better prepare you for all types of outdoor adventure.
6) What to Bring on the Trail
As you can tell, hiking in New Zealand, especially in Mount Cook National Park, can bring all sorts of weather.
Due to this, you will need to come fully prepared with the appropriate hiking gear. Spending 8+ hours out in the mountains can have you layering up (or down) in all sorts of ways.
Below are my recommendations on what a Mueller Hut packing list should look like:
In general, I found layering to be the upmost important part of a trip. On a hike to the Mueller Hut, I would recommend the following layers:
→ Hiking Shorts
→ Hiking Pants
→ Short Sleeve Shirt
→ Long Sleeve Shirt / Sun Hoodie
→ Mid Layer Fleece
→ Puff Jacket (not always needed)
→ Packable Rain Jacket (Columbia Watertight II)
While layers are important so will be your footwear. You want to be sure to bring appropriate waterproof hiking shoes (Recommendation: Keen Targhee) along with solid hiking socks as well.
Additional day hike recommendations include:
→ Hiking Backpack (Osprey Talon 22) & Rain cover (Joy Walker Cover)
→ Water Bottle (CamelBak Chute) & Nutrition
→ Portable Charger (Anker PowerCore 5000mAh)
→ Hat & Sunglasses
→ Sunscreen & Bug Spray
→ Action Camera – GoPro Hero
» Be sure to check out the Hiking Packing List guide I put together that will go through all of it and more
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7) Mueller Hut Booking
As mentioned earlier on, it will be possible to stay overnight at the Mueller Hut if you want to split this into two days. By doing so you won’t need to hike up and down in a single day.
This will also give you the rare chance to see a sunrise and sunset over Mt Cook National Park.
Do You Have to Book the Mueller Hut?
If you do decide to do the overnight in the Mueller Hut and make this a two day hike, then you must make a reservation in advance. To do so head on over to the Mueller Hut booking page to reserve your spot.
During the offseason months (May 1 – Mid November), you will need to book your spot directly at the Mount Cook Visitor Center in town on the day you start the hike.
There are 28 bunk beds available at the hut and it costs $45 NZD for the night. You will find some basic accommodation, solar electricity, and gas cookers (don’t expect anything too fancy!). An outhouse toilet in located outside of the main hut as well.
If you do sleep overnight, you will want to bring along a warm sleeping bag and any additional food to keep you healthy.
Can I Camp at Mueller Hut?
While sleeping in the hut is one option, you also have the chance to camp outside the hut as well.
This can be a useful option for those that want to save some money or if the hut happens to be sold out. Before heading off for the hike, you will need to go to the visitor center and pay a $15 NZD fee.
8) How Hard is Mueller Hut Track?
When it comes to accessible hikes in Mount Cook National Park, the Mueller Hut track is certainly going to be the hardest one.
Remember, over the course of just 5.2 km / 3.2 miles, you will be gaining over 1,000 meters / 3,400 feet.
For most people out there, that is going to be a whole lot of elevation gain to deal with over a short period of trail.
While the first part of the ascent is going to be filled with 2,000 easier to use stairs, the second half of the ascent will be on uneven and trickier terrain. Due to this, I would not recommend this hike for beginners or those that just don’t have that type of fitness levels.
There are a couple ways though for you to make this easier on yourself:
1) One option to consider if you are uncertain about making the hike up, is to first simply hike to Sealy Tarns (more on that soon).
This will still have a good amount of elevation gain (a little over half of the total gain), but it will mostly be on the staircase. Once up at Sealy Tarns, you can decide if you have the energy for the full hike.
2) As just mentioned, doing this hike in two days is an option too! While all of the elevation gain will need to be done at once, you will then have the chance to relax for a night at the hut before descending the following day.
At the end of the day, the Mueller Hut track is a hard one to complete. But there are options/alternatives out there to make it more accessible for those that are not as confident in their hiking abilities.
9) Mueller Hut Route
Now that you have some background info about the Mueller Hut Track, it is time to dive on into the hike itself.
From the White Horse Hill Parking Lot (or from Mount Cook Village), the Mueller Hut Track will actually share the same path with two trails along the way – Kea Point and Sealy Tarns.
The trail to Kea Point will only be shared for a small bit until the Mueller Hut trail veers away and up the mountain. From there, the Mueller Hut Track and the Sealy Tarns Track will be one of the same until you reach Sealy Tarns itself.
Everything above Sealy Tarns would just be the Mueller Hut Track on its own. So if you complete the Mueller Hut Track, well congrats because you completed the Sealy Tarns track as well!
» You can learn more about this portion of trail in the Sealy Tarns Hiking Guide
As long as you follow the signs for the Mueller Hut you will be all good, but I just wanted to explain why you may see some other track names along the way. Below is a map that shows the different trails mentioned:
10) The Mueller Hut Track
Once you make the short walk through the valley and veer away from Kea Point, the Mueller Hut Track can be broken down into two main phases – the first is the 2000+ stairs to Sealy Tarns, which is then followed by the rock scramble to the Mueller Hut. And when coming back down it will be the same in reverse!
A) White Horse Hill Parking Lot to Sealy Tarns
As you begin the hike and follow the signs towards the Mueller Hut, you will be welcomed to some incredible views from down below of Mount Cook National Park surrounding you.
Soon enough though you will come across the infamous ~2,200 step staircase. You will slowly make your way up the mountain as you zig zag your way closer and closer to Sealy Tarns.
Now, while the trek up is pretty tiring, the views just continuously get better and better as you gain more elevation.
You will be able to see Mount Cook Village out to the right with the beautiful valley going on for miles, and directly in front of you will be Mueller Lake, Tasman Lake and of course Mount Cook itself.
You will get a great view from up top of the Hooker Valley Track and its suspension bridges and you will soon across some more snow capped peaks surrounding you.
After a couple hours of climbing, you should reach Sealy Tarns – one of the most picturesque lakes that you can ask for high up in the mountainside. Take some time here to sit down, relax, and enjoy the ever expanding views.
B) Sealy Tarns to Mueller Hut
Once you had enough time enjoying Sealy Tarns, head back onto the trail and follow the sign to the Mueller Hut. Now this portion of the hike is going to be a bit different than the first portion.
While you had some help with the stairs to begin with, now the incline will be ascended by rocks instead. During this portion of the hike, you need to be very aware of your footing.
One slip and you can twist an ankle or seriously hurt yourself. Now, while there are plenty of rock sections, you will find some sections of a more normal dirt trail as well. Just continue to follow those markers as you make your way up.
After some time you will soon come across the Mueller Glacier and Mount Sefton out in the distance. Don’t be surprised either if you see small avalanches coming down from time to time – believe you will know when they are about to happen by the large crackling sounds!
Soon enough though you will get your first glimpse of the bright red Mueller Hut up on the mountainside. From here all you need to do is get yourself around all the rocks and possibly some snow to reach your final destination (or mid point that is!).
Once at the Mueller Hut it is time to rest those legs and take in the vast views in every which direction – Mount Cook, the lakes, the valley, the snow capped peaks – you name it and Mueller Hut has it for you.
If you are up for a little more adventure, you can scramble some more rock to the left of the Mueller Hut along Mt Olivier (you don’t need to hike to the very top for more views).
You are sure to find a place all to yourself to take in the surroundings and enjoy everything that Mount Cook National Park has to offer.
C) Heading Back Down
Well, it is now time to make your way back down to the White Horse Hill Parking Lot. It is a long and grueling downhill so be prepared for it! You will start off heading back to Sealy Tarns. Remember, this portion of the trail consists of mostly all rocks.
Heading down on these rocks is much harder than going up on them. Be careful, watch your step, and take it slowly until you reach Sealy Tarns.
Once you have made your way to the staircase, enjoy those 2,200 steps back down in the valley. By now you probably just want to be down as quickly as possible and I don’t blame you after the 6+ hours of hiking.
But still be careful and don’t take it too fast. Soon enough you will be right back at the White Horse Hill Parking Lot after successfully completing the one of a kind Mueller Hut Track.
11) Other Mount Cook Hikes
There are several other hiking trails around the area to choose from ranging from less than an hour to 8+ hours. Depending on your interest level you can choose from a variety of the below:
» Check out an overview of every single hike in the Mt Cook Hikes Guide
1. Hooker Valley Track
The “must do” hike in Mount Cook National Park would be the Hooker Valley Track. An easy 3 hour trail round trip trail, this hike takes you alongside and into the valley beneath Mount Cook itself.
During the hike you will pass by the Mueller Lake, and onto three suspension bridges on your way to the base of Hooker Lake overlooking Mount Cook in the distance. Since it is a valley walk, there is barely any elevation gain/loss, making this a hike for nearly everyone to take part of.
2. Kea Point
An easy add on to the Hooker Valley Track is Kea Point. The hike to Kea Point starts in the same area as the Hooker Valley trail, and is a simple 1 hour round trip walk.
Once you have reached Kea Point, you will get a great view of Mueller Lake from another angle and Mount Cook out in the distance. You will also be able to see parts of the Hooker Valley Track that you may have just completed.
» Take a look at the Kea Point Track Hiking Guide to Learn More
3. Red Tarns
If you are looking to get some views from above, one option is the Red Tarns Track. This track will take you above the valley with views of the glacier lake and Mount Cook out in the distance.
Now the track is full of plenty of stairs as you make the 300 meter ascent. But once up top you will be able to relax and take in those views before making your way back down in the direction you came.
» Take a look at the Red Tarns Track Guide to get you prepared for the trail
4. Blue Lakes and Tasman Lake View & Tasman Lake Track
While these may technically be a couple different trails, you should have no problem combining them into one longer route, taking you a couple hours to complete.
An easy trail takes you to 3 different small lakes around the Mount Cook area. The hike begins at the Tasman Glacier Car Park and follows a path to the first of the lakes.
When you get to each of these lakes note that you can go around each one and follow a path to the next. It may not be so obvious at first, but there is a path around. Once you have seen all of them, turn back around and head back towards the starting point.
On the way back you should see a sign pointing you towards the Tasman Lake View (you would have passed this same sign on the way to the lakes trail). Head up the path where you will be welcomed to a vast view of Tasman Lake down below.
Similarly, as you are walking back you should be pointed in the direction towards the base of Tasman Lake. Follow that path to get you right towards the waters edge, where you can take in the view from down below. It was quite surreal seeing the small icebergs pass by as you enjoy the glacier lake’s surroundings.
» Take a look at the Blue Lakes and Tasman Lake View & Tasman Lake Track Guide
12) Where to Stay in Mt Cook Village
The village of Mount Cook is pretty small altogether. There are basically just a few hotels and a couple restaurants that make up the town center.
Now while there isn’t much going on in the village, it is the most convenient of options if you are looking to take part of the Mueller Hut Track among the other various trails in Mount Cook National Park. Below are a some of those options to choose from:
Well then, that about sums up what you need to know to take part of the Mueller Hut Track. It is sure to be one of your best hiking experiences to date and I hope this guide has helped you get going in the right direction.
If you have any questions at all about the trail, feel free to write them in below. Also take a look at the other New Zealand itineraries and guides up on the site for more helpful info to prepare you for your trip (like the drive from Lake Tekapo to Mount Cook).
Have fun out there and safe travels!
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