Mueller Hut hike in New Zealand: all you need to know!
In 2011 I visited Mount Cook National Park in New Zealand for the first time. After spending 24 hours in this amazing masterpiece of mother nature, I returned home but kept in mind that I’d come back one day. Because there had been a sign on the Kea Point Track, towards Mueller Hut. Once home I looked up Mueller Hut and realized that this must be one of New Zealand’s most amazing hikes. In 2011 I made the decision to hike to Mueller Hut and in 2018 I came back to actually do so. Here is my story!
Hiking the Mueller Hut Track: preparations
Before setting off on my three month journey back to New Zealand in 2018, I knew that there were some hikes I wanted to make no matter what. Two of them were the Angelus Hut hike and the Mueller Hut hike. Upon researching the internet, I knew it had to be an amazing tramp up into the mountains and that my friend Marieke and I should plan our hike carefully. She came to visit me in New Zealand during my long trip and we had a bit of bad luck before. Our overnight in the Welcome Flat Hut in Westland National Park got canceled earlier on by Department of Conservation because of foul weather. We really hoped that our Mueller Hut hike would be possible as this was definitely on top of our bucket list.
Arrival in Mount Cook National Park
After finishing the Routeburn Track in the pouring rain, we took off for Twizel and Mount Cook National Park. After Mount Cook, Marieke would fly home from Christchurch and I’d continue my journey onwards back to the North Island. We were on a pretty tight schedule and had made our Mueller Hut booking months ago already. It’s usually pretty booked up in high season (November – March) so make sure to book well in advance!
Upon arrival in the park and checking in at Glentanner Holiday Park, one of my favorite spots for camping near Mount Cook National Park, we looked at the Mueller Hut weather forecast. The next day looked fine, but the days after, which we had in fact planned for the Mueller Hut Track, were not nearly as good.
We decided to head to the Department of Conservation Office in Mount Cook Village and inquired whether we’d be able to move our booking to one night earlier, but unfortunately that wasn’t possible. So we were stuck with following dilemma: hike to Mueller Hut in one day with good weather, or hike to Mueller Hut on a day with possibly poor weather but stay overnight.
We asked DOC staff whether it would be possible to do the Mueller Hut hike in one day and even though they don’t recommend it, they mentioned it’s possible if you’re a fit hiker and the weather is in your favor. So eventually we decided to go for it, take the gamble and head up the next day when we were supposed to have the best weather.
Mueller Hut Mt Cook hike
And so we packed our lunch, a couple of bottles with water, warm clothes and a first air kit and set off on our hike. Upon waking up the weather was OK, yet there were some low clouds which bothered us. Heading up in the clouds is not a good idea and since the Mueller Hut route is an alpine track, you should only do this hike in good weather.
We decided to head up to Sealy Tarns (more or less the half way point) first and see from there. The hike up to Sealy Tarns is not technical, yet it’s hard with a lot of steps. A LOT! Basically, from the turn off to Mueller Hut on the Kia Point Track, it’s a vertical wall you are climbing. Up until Sealy Tarns it’s pretty easy as the steps are made, it’s called ‘Stairway to Heaven’ with a reason.
A short break at Sealy Tarns
The Sealy Tarns are a bunch of small alpine lakes that may have beautiful reflection in case there is no or little wind. Once you’ve reached Sealy Tarns you’ve gained about 600 meters of altitude in about two hours. The views from here are simply stunning. You can see the glaciers across the valley and Hookey Valley with Mount Cook in the distance. There’s a large picknick table where you can grab a snack and then continue your journey up. From here, the fun really begins as the track changes into a route and becomes more undulated.
As we were getting close to the clouds, we asked some overnight hikers coming down whether it was worth continuing and they totally encouraged us to do so, as once above the clouds the views would be even more amazing. And so we decided to push on as we knew that our hard work and long waiting just had to be rewarded.
The scramble to Mueller Hut
Next up was a section on a large patch of grass. The trail was well trodden in most places yet very steep and quite slippery as well, since the clouds had left a bit of moist. After about 30 minutes you’ll leave the greens behind and you’ll have to scramble up a large vertical boulder field. There’s somewhat of a track here but it’s not always clear where you can hike, the best is to stay left and follow others in front of you. You may have to use your hands at a few places. The orange poles will guide you through the terrain.
An hour after leaving Sealy Tarns you’ll arrive at a viewpoint from where you have seriously stunning views of the glaciers in the opposite valley. This was definitely the most picturesque part of the hike (the cover picture was taken there) and you should definitely take some time for photos here.
Onwards to Mueller Hut
From here, it’s another 30 minute hike to Mueller Hut, mostly over giant boulders. In some places there’s once again no trail, yet there are orange markers to help you find your way. Only some ten minutes before getting to the hut you can see it. Somehow this last stretch seemed to last forever, maybe because we’d been slow at going up or maybe because I just really wanted to be there …
Eventually the hut came in sight and I could almost cry. I finally made it! The hut is surrounded by alpine terrain and glaciers in the distance. Since it was a stunning day, the clouds had cleared after we left Sealy Tarns, there were quite a lot of people up there enjoying the views and the sunshine.
At Mueller Hut
We took a short lunch break at the hut, used the bathrooms (probably the most beautifully located bathrooms on the planet!), took some photos and then decided to head down again. Before heading back down, we took a little peek inside and I felt a little heartbroken we couldn’t stay the night. However, we were still glad that we were able to hike up in such beautiful conditions and that we were rewarded with sunshine and happiness!
The hike back down from Mueller Hut
The hike back down from Mueller Hut is a little grueling in some places. For me, hiking up is always easier than hiking down and I was happy that I had my trekking poles with me. The Mueller Hut altitude gain is 1.050 meters in some 3/4 hours (we took 4!) and down is usually even faster but painful on the knees for sure. However, they way back also rewarded us with amazing views of Mount Cook in the distance and I couldn’t get my head over the fact that we were in so much luck during our hike.
Once back on our campsite we treated ourselves to a nice bottle of wine celebrating reaching Mueller Hut. One day earlier than planned, yet on a stunning day. The next morning there was a full overcast and it was in fact raining a bit later on. We were happy that we had chosen to hike to Mueller Hut they day before, having to cancel our overnight stay.
Practical things to know about Mueller Hut hike in one day
Mueller Hut is located in an alpine environment and it’s not an easy hike up. If you’re not an experienced hiker, forget about this hike and choose from one of these other Mount Cook hikes. The walk up until Sealy Tarns will give you a good idea whether you should continue. If you found that hard already, don’t bother to push on.
You gain 1.050 meters in altitude in some 3/4 hours of hiking up almost non-stop. You’ll need to bring lots of drinking water, sturdy boots, snack and lunch as well as rain gear, a first aid kit and sunscreen. The sun can be unrelenting up in the alpine section and you can easily get burned even if there are clouds.
If you plan to do the Mueller Hut hike in one day, make sure to check the trail conditions with DOC in Mount Cook Village that same morning or the day before. Also check the weather for Mueller Hut and whether it’s safe to go. The return hike is a full day that will take you about 8 hours or maybe even more, not counting breaks.
The hike starts at the White Horse Hill Camp Ground near Hooker Valley. If you wish to start your hike super early, you can camp out here, pack up and leave before everyone else does.
Mueller Hut bookings + overnight stays
If you are planning to stay overnight, then you must have a booking, which you can make at the Department of Conservation website. You can complete the payment by creditcard and you’ll receive a confirmation by email once they payment has been made. Note that Mueller Hut is becoming more and more popular and it can get tricky to get a reservation at the last minute in high season.
As there are no facilities in the hut, you’ll need to carry everything you need for the night. Clothes, a sleeping bag, food and cooking material, including a stove. Headlights and shoes to wear inside can be useful too, since muddy hiking boots have to be left outside.
Is it busy on the Mueller Hut hike?
Yes, we found it to be quite busy, but it was the best day of the week so it might have been that people have waited for the good weather. However, it’s still very much worth hiking up as this hike is definitely my favorite in New Zealand, together with Hooker Valley hike and the Tongariro Crossing that is.
Where to stay before and after your Mueller Hut hike
As mentioned, White Horse Hill Campsite is near, however it’s simple and does not have any facilities. If you prefer to camp in a place with showers, electricity and wifi, your best option is to stay at Glentanner. I stayed here as well a while ago and this camp site has amazing views of Mount Cook and offers all facilities you will need, from hot showers to a cooking area and very slow wifi. Make sure to book ahead as it’s usually quite full in summer season, we got the last spot upon arrival. We actually wanted to stay in nearby Twizel but all campsites were fully booked.
Make sure to also order your copy of Lonely Planet’s Tramping in New Zealand in preparation for your hiking trip to New Zealand! It has got plenty of useful information about the best known and various unknown hikes in New Zealand.
For further reading, also read the best hikes in New Zealand and my complete online travel guide to New Zealand.
Conclusion and disclaimer
I hope you found this Mueller Hut New Zealand hiking guide useful and that it has answered all your questions. If you have any questions left or anything to add, feel free to leave a comment below!
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