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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.]


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 4983 reviews)

    Rimu is Wonderful - A few tips if you plan to go...

    My husband and I took the Rimu trip in early November 2016 and had a really terrific time. I encourage everyone who is seriously considering the Rimu to go ahead and sign up. That being said, with all of the fun we had, I do wish we had known a few things ahead of time. I include these tips for you, the soon-to-be Rimu traveler, to make your trip more enjoyable. However, I can promise that even if you do none of these things, you will still have a marvelous time:

    1. Guys, if you opt to snorkel with the fur seals be sure to shave your mustache before you leave home. It seems obvious now, but it never occurred to my husband that the mask wouldn’t seal properly to his face with his mustache. Do yourself a favor and shave it off or spend the afternoon dealing with a leaky mask.

    2. I also wish I had known just how intense and challenging the 3-day multi-hike through Nelson Lakes would be. If you’re an office worker and occasional hiker like me, then I encourage you to take this trip but do lots of practice/fitness training in advance. Load up your pack and get on the stair-master or start climbing really steep hills. The hike is gorgeous and worth it, but I can promise you it will be a lot more enjoyable if you’re in good shape for it. Also, there are no showers at the huts and only latrines (port-a-potties) for toilets, so bring baby wipes for exactly the same reason you would use them on a baby (wink wink). And also bring hiking poles! I know it says optional on the gear list, but I really found them to be essential. As for the water bottle – leave that at home and invest in a good water bladder system (a “Camelback” or similar). We found the water bottle to be a hassle to take in and out of the bag (forcing us to stop each time), which made us want to drink less water. The water bladders allow you to keep moving and you’ll find you’re more hydrated.

    3. The sea kayaks (and, honestly, New Zealand in general) are not made for people over 6’ 2” in height (187 cm). Watch your head everywhere you go, and as for the kayaks, it may help to have the taller person sit in the front seat of the kayak instead of the back.

    4. Also, pack enough clothes for a week and then expect to do laundry. Bring some travel-sized laundry soap packets to help save money and make sure you have enough 1$ and 2$ coins for laundry before you get to the hotel (the machines are generally pretty expensive: about $3 for the washer and between $3 - $5 for 30 minutes in the dryer).

    5. Bring good cycling shorts – yes, the ones with the weird-feeling padding on the bum. It will help prevent the dreaded ‘grumpy grundle’.

    6. And finally, a heads-up to my fellow outgoing introverts (yes, we exist): this trip contains long days of social interaction (think 7:15 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.), with few breaks for introspection/solitude. If you need some down time, skip dinner or unfurl all of the emergency blankets and build your own fort at the back of the bus and hang a sign that says, “Stay Out!” (just kidding about that last one).

    A great big thank you to our guides, Rachel and Jordan, who were informative and helpful beyond measure. How they managed to remain cheerful and engaging considering they had to do all of the exertion we clients had to do, plus all of their work on top of it, is beyond me. They are the embodiment of Kiwi hospitality! We are already thinking of coming back for a North Island tour sometime soon.
    Lauren Gerth Review Image
    – Missouri, United States
    Rimu, November 2016
  •   4.60 out of 5 (from 1887 reviews)

    Guided Trips are the Way to Go!

    I had been wanting to hike in New Zealand for some time, and finally had enough time off. Trying to figure out the hut system, what to see and how to get around seemed a bit overwhelming. Even moreso since I was traveling solo. Active looked to be a great way to travel without having to stress about the planning, travel, etc. Though I had never traveled like this before, I saw the places I wanted to travel to, and others I would have likely not have found alone. Everyone on the trip was pleasant and easy to talk to, friendly and, like me had a great time. Our guides, Katie and Astrid, really made the trip with their upbeat attitudes, informative revelations on everything we saw, continual answering to our sometimes badgering questions and always being ready to help out.
    Henry Shenk Review Image
    – Louisiana, United States
    Tui, March 2018
  •   4.48 out of 5 (from 297 reviews)

    Weka---- Best day ever--14 days running

    Capable, energetic and enthusiastic guides, great fun, exciting cycling. Exceptional vistas that took our breath away, sparking waterfalls, pristine mountains and streams, Variety of cycling from road to single track with some fun stream crossings. Guides prepared delicious meals with presentation worthy of a top end restaurant. Best Day Ever
    best trip we ever had.
    Ben Thorlakson Review Image
    – Alberta, Canada
    Weka 13-day, January 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 4983 reviews)

    Perfect in Everyway!!

    With great guides, fabulous weather and scenery that is amazing, we hiked, kayaked our way through-out the South Island. We learned a lot about the country, the flora and fauna, birds and conservation efforts.
    Sharon Brownfield Review Image
    – Massachusetts, United States
    Rimu, December 2017
  •   4.60 out of 5 (from 1887 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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