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Mueller Ridge Hike, Mt Cook National Park

Sealy Tarns and Mueller Hut

The Mueller Ridge hike from MT Cook village, up past Sealy Tarns, and finally on to Mueller Hut itself, is one of the most easily accessible and rewarding day hikes in New Zealand. It is hard work at times, climbing steeply from the valley floor, but rewards you with ever-improving views over the Hooker Valley and the Mount Cook Range, with an incredible payoff when you reach the ridge itself, and gain views of Mt Sefton and the Mueller Glacier.

The Hike

The hike itself can be started from Mount Cook Village, but more often than not, people choose to start from the car park at the White Horse Hill Campground, which is also the starting point for the Kea Point and Hooker Valley hikes. There are toilet facilities at the campsite, as well as a shelter.

From the carpark the track starts off relatively gently, through grassland and scrub. The track splits off at one point - the Kea Point track goes off to the right, but there should be a DOC sign for Mueller Hut. After continuing on a clear trail through scrub, the it then goes along an old streambed for a while - sometimes it's a little tricky to see the trail when it crosses the boulders and gravel, but it's hard to go too far wrong. From here it starts to climb pretty fast up a steep 'gut' in the hillside - for much of the trail from here up to Sealy Tarns, old railway sleepers are used to create steps. At one point the trail passes over a particularly large boulder that just out from the hillside, which is clearly visible from lower down - you can often see people stopping for a rest to catch their breath.

mt cook

When the trail moves away from the gut, at around 1050m, most of the hardest climbing has been done - there's still a long way to go and it's still all uphill, but the path is slightly more gentle at times as it winds its way up the hillside. From here onwards, there will be awesome views around the neighbouring valleys and the Mount Cook Range, as well as Mt Sefton coming into view again. The path continues steeply through alpine vegetation before traversing a little to the right at around 1250m before the last little climb to Sealy Tarns (1300m). Here, there is a step in the slope of the hillside, and a couple of small, narrow tarns, along with a bench seat on a nearby rise - a very scenic spot indeed. In early summer, this is often as far as you can go, as the snow line will be around this level. For most people it will take around an hour and a half to two hours to reach this point

From Sealy Tarns, the route is not always so obvious - it is considered to be an 'alpine route' rather than a standard DOC trail - but is marked at regular interval by orange DOC poles or metal poles marked with orange triangles. The path underfoot is less defined, a little rocky in places, and as it gets higher and starts to leave the alpine scrub and tussock, it enters boulder fields. The final ascent to the ridgeline is up a steep-ish scree slope, which will often still have tongues of snow on it late into the spring and summer - so take care in these areas, even crossing a short section of a steep snow bank could lead to a long slide with rocks awaiting you at the bottom. When you reach the top of the scree slope, about a 50m ascent, to achieve the ridge at around 1600m, the view opens up to an amazing vista of Mt Sefton, and the Mueller Glacier far below. In spring and summer, the crack of avalanches and sections of ice calving off the glaciers below Mt Sefton can frequently be heard, and you will usually be able to spot snow and ice cascading down the mountainside. At this point there is a little outcrop just down the ridge a bit that makes an excellent viewpoint, and photo opportunity, and for many, a suitable turn-around point - this will probably be about 3-3.5hrs into the hike for most people.]

mueller

However, for the faster and more keen hikers, the route can be continued up the ridge to Mueller Hut, about a kilometre away, at an altitude just short of 1800m. The route to the hut is still marked by poles, but although these are not always obvious, you are basically just following the ridgeline up towards the hut, though the trail is always on the western side of the ridge ( the Mueller Glacier side). The route is initially uneven, across boulder fields, and requires some confidence rock-hopping, but later on crosses a couple of small basins before reaching the hut. The Mueller Hut is quite large, and is raised above ground level (only noticeable in summer, as in winter the snow level is usually at the level of the outside deck, or higher). The hut is used by climbers as a base for climbing Mount Olivier and other peaks beyond - in fact Mount Olivier was the first peak ever climbed by the young Edmund Hillary! It is also used for ski-touring in winter, though because the snow rarely reaches the valley floor, alpine ski-touring in the area involves quite a lot of hiking with heavy gear before you can put your skis on! You can stay overnight at the hut, but you need to register with DOC at Mount Cook first, and pay your hut fees.

The return route is exactly the way you came, and the descent is usually much quicker, though it can prove painful on the old knees towards the bottom, especially when dropping down on the railroad-sleeper steps.

The Route Map

Weather and Safety

This hike is in the heart of a very mountainous region, and as such, the weather can be extremely changeable. Even on the clearest summer day, you should come prepared for adverse conditions - the ridgeline in particular is very exposed. As with all significant hikes in National Parks, you should register your intentions with the DOC Visitor Centre in Mount Cook village before heading out, and check in on your return. The DOC staff will also be able to give you the latest weather forecast and advise you on track conditions, and in particular, what the current snow level is and whether there are significant snowbanks that may need to be taken into consideration. Whilst on the trail, if at any point you think you have lost the trail, back-track to the last point you saw a trail marker, and start again from there.

 

   

Trip Reviews

  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 16032 reviews)

    North Island - Kauri

    From the first day to the last, I have enjoyed travelling through the North Island with our fantastic guides Jo and Andy. Rain or shine there was always an interesting hike to go to, or a point of view worth stopping at and they know them all. The landscaping of NZ is fabulous in many areas and I liked the fact that we went out of the major tourist attraction points. Andy, excellent driver, is also an encyclopedia of information and such a good narrator he makes the long road trips fill shorter and very pleasant. Jo the mermaid is an excellent cook who enjoyed preparing meals for kings even in restrictive facilities. I enjoyed the fact that we could participate in a good variety of activities as we were hoping to. We felt secure at all times, we learned a lot about the Maori nation and their influence on the actual NZ.
    A very informative and pleasant trip overall, with excellent guides who adapt easily to any group of people or situations they have to deal with. Two tums up, I will definitely recommend this adventure to anyone who enjoys nature and culture out of their comfort zone.
    Claude Remy Review Image
    – Ontario, Canada
    Kauri, December 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 16032 reviews)

    Excellent Trip

    If you like outdoor activities this is your dream trip. The itinerary is very well planned. The scenery and landscapes are beautiful. Our guides Tia and Alex are fabulous. They are youthful, caring, knowledgeable, and extremely professional. Their hardwork made the entire trip smooth and enjoyable. Everyday is packed with interesting and exciting outdoor activities: multi-day hiking in Nelson Lake NP, kayaking in Milford Sound, biking along the shore of Wanaka Lake, and day hiking the Routeburn, Kepler, Sealy Tarns, Hooker Valley and many other beautiful short tracks in various NPs of the South Island. The group mates are very friendly and fun and the small group size made it easy to socialize. In addition, the food is healthy and very delicious. Thanks to every member of the group, in particular our great guides Tia and Alex, it is your care, warmth, encouragement, and tolerance that made this trip truly unforgettable.
    Siyuan Han Review Image
    – Kansas, United States
    Rimu, January 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 16032 reviews)

    Weka - New Zealand

    Wow!! What a trip! This hiking & biking tour was breath-taking both figuratively and literally. Our guides made our adventure challenging, yet fun. They were knowledgeable, encouraging and you could tell they are truly passionate about what they do. This tour captured all the great highlights of New Zealand staying just off the beaten path so we could really experience the diverse beauty and savory tastes of the island. Our group enjoyed ourselves so much we are already discussing another Active Adventure trip in 2019. Thank you Active Adventures for a wonderful experience!
    Sue Stohrer Review Image
    – California, United States
    Weka, March 2018
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 16032 reviews)

    Joy Project; New Zealand's North Island

    The Tongariro Crossing was the highlight of my visit of the Northern Island. I felt as though we were trekking on another planet.

    Andrew and Claire shared their extensive knowledge of New Zealand’s culture, land, flora and fauna while offering great music on Dick, the bus and fabulous meals!

    I was asked about traveling to New Zealand alone. I explained I was not alone but traveling with twelve friends I had not met yet. This turned out to be factual.
    Lynn Marie
    Lynn Dulmage Review Image
    – Michigan, United States
    Kauri, August 2016
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 16032 reviews)

    Exceeding expectations and more!

    We had been planning this trip for about a year and I had been dreaming about this trip for about 7 years, therefore the expectations were high. Active Adventures did an excellent job and our guides Kuru and Liana made this a trip of a lifetime. The most amazing part is that they always were one step ahead of planning the next meal, hike, bike or even maneuvering around the NZ wild weather. All the planning ahead and adjusting on the fly would normally turn a trip to be very stressful but we were able to sit back and relax (not literally because it was very active) and truly enjoy the beautiful landscape and everything NZ had to offer. Truly the trip of a lifetime!
    Ryan Hussey Review Image
    – New Hampshire, United States
    Tui, December 2016

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