IntroductionAt 1800 metres on the Sealy Range, Mueller Hut provides a 360-degree panorama encompassing glaciers, ice cliffs, vertical rock faces and New Zealand’s highest peaks.
5.2 km one way
Mid November–30 April
Bookings are required for Mueller Hut.
Register your intentions at the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park Visitor Centre on the day you start. This is part of a formal intentions process that operates in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park for your safety – failure to sign in or sign out may result in a formal search being initiated.
The whole tramp is in alpine terrain - know what weather to expect and take the right gear.
Aoraki/Mount Cook Village to Sealy Tarns
Time: 2 hr
Start on the Kea Point Track either outside the Aoraki/ Mount Cook National Park Visitor Centre or at White Horse Hill car park, at the end of the Hooker Valley Road. Follow the Kea Point Track to the Sealy Tarns turnoff.
The Sealy Tarns Track begins gently until you reach the foot of the Mueller Range. The track zigzags steeply up to Sealy Tarns. The track is very steep and it narrows as it approaches Sealy tarns. It’s easy to slip especially when snow is present. Keep an eye on the weather – there is no shelter or alternative routes, so if you see bad weather approaching (generally from the North-West), we recommend turning back.
A climb to this spot will reward the walker with spectacular views of the Hooker Valley and the peaks in the area, including Aoraki/Mt Cook on a good day. A tarn is the name given to a small mountain lake or pond.
Assess your fitness and ability at Sealy Tarns - the track gets harder from there on.
Sealy Tarns to Mueller Hut
Time: 2 hr
Use Sealy Tarns as a decision point – check the weather, ensure your group are all feeling comfortable with continuing on to Mueller Hut, and make sure you have enough time to get there before dark.
From Sealy Tarns follow the orange markers (every 200 metres) through the tussock. Keep a close eye on the orange marker poles, especially if there is low visibility. Make sure you can always see the next marker pole.
This is not a maintained track but an alpine route. Parts of the route are quite rocky. It zig-zags through alpine scrub, herb fields and tussocks to a large rock field.
From here the route ascends a loose gravel slope (scree) of about 50 metres, to the skyline ridge. At certain times of the year this becomes a steep snow slope. If snow is present, we recommend only continuing if you have avalanche knowledge and equipment.
Once on the ridge relax and enjoy the magnificent view of the Mueller Glacier sweeping down the valley past smaller hanging glaciers and the stunning ice shelf on Mount Sefton.
The route from here turns south towards the hut. Follow the orange markers through the basin until you see Mueller Hut – about 20 minutes along the ridge.
Side trip: Mueller Hut to Mt Ollivier
Time: 30 min
This is a rock scramble along the obvious ridge from Mueller Hut to the top of the rocky outcrop immediately to the south of the hut. A big cairn marks the top. Don’t be tempted to go further along unless you have experience, as it can get dangerous. It is very steep and exposed beyond the top of Mount Ollivier. This was the first peak Sir Edmund Hillary climbed, beginning a climbing career culminating in the first ascent of Everest.
Mueller Hut to Aoraki/Mount Cook Village
Time: 3 hr
If you are leaving Mueller Hut in the morning, be aware that ice is common on the lower ridgeline. It’s best to wait for this to soften in the sun before starting the track.
Descend back to the village the same way as you came up. Do not be tempted to go straight down or veer off the route at any stage. Make sure you turn off the ridge down the scree slope at the orange marker. In bad weather it can be quite difficult finding your way. When descending the scree slope, go slowly and carefully – stay in control.
Understand if you are ready for the Mueller Hut Route
Watch the NZ Mountain Safety Council’s walk-through video which takes you through how to prepare for this track. Including facilities, key decision points, hazards and typical conditions for the area.
Your safety is your responsibility – be prepared
- Summer (December–February): The route to Mueller Hut offers a mountain experience for anyone with moderate tramping experience – as long as care is taken.
- Winter (June–August): The route requires good level of mountaineering experience, including walking on ice and snow with ice axe and crampons, route finding and using an avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel. Ski tourers must have a thorough knowledge of avalanche dangers and ability to navigate in alpine terrain.
- Spring (September–November) / Autumn (March–May): Winter conditions can be present during spring and autumn – check with the Aoraki/Mount Cook Visitor Centre for the current conditions.
Be avalanche aware
There is considerable avalanche danger on the Mueller Hut Route during winter and spring (April to mid November). However, avalanches can occur at any time of the year as snow falls year round in the park.
- You check the New Zealand Avalanche Advisory (NZAA) before you go.
- You have the skills to recognise avalanche conditions and avalanche prone areas.
- You know the safest areas to travel in.
- Each person has an avalanche transceiver, a snow shovel and a probe, and knows how to use them.
- Backpack – 40–60 litre size for multi-day hiking
- Waterproof or plastic pack liner
- Sleeping bag – 3–4 season
- First aid kit including blister treatment materials
- Map and compass – how to navigate using map and compass
- Head torch/flashlight and spare batteries
- Rubbish bag – all rubbish must be taken out with you
- Distress beacon – options and why you should take one
- Survival kit including survival blanket, whistle, paper, pencil, high energy snack food
- Emergency shelter
Cooking and food equipment
- Drink bottle – 1–2 litre capacity – you may need to carry more depending on resupply options
- Equipment to boil water or water treatment tables
- Gas cooker and fuel, for example, gas canister
- Eating and cooking utensils – knife, fork, spoon, plate, cup, pot/pan/billy, cleaning kit, tea towel.
- Matches or lighter in waterproof container
- Toiletries, including insect repellent, sunscreen, and personal medication, for example, antihistamine for allergy to wasp stings
- Toilet paper – do not wash or use soap in lakes or streams
Optional personal equipment
- Ear plugs for communal bunkrooms
- Navigational tools such as GPS
- Walking poles
- Rain proof pack cover
- For routes where there are few toilets lightweight trowel to bury your toilet waste – how to dig a hole for toilet waste. Another option is a poo pot or bag.
- Sleeping mat
- Ground sheet
It’s not possible to dry clothes in huts. Cotton clothing such as jeans, T-shirts and sweatshirts are not suitable. It won’t keep you warm when it's wet. Expect to get wet while in New Zealand's outdoors.
- For multi-day walking you'll need at least one set of clothes to walk in and another dry set to change into at night
- Tramping/hiking boots or firm footwear – should be comfortable and well broken in with good ankle support for uneven ground
- Socks – wool or polypropylene
- Shorts – quick dry material
- Shirt – wool, polypropylene, nylon or polyester
- Under layers, top and bottom – wool, polypropylene, nylon or polyester
- Mid-layers – wool or polar fleece
- Raincoat – waterproof, windproof with hood
- Overtrousers – wind and waterproof
- Warm hat, scarf and gloves
- Sunhat and sunglasses
- Extra socks, underwear, shirt/lightweight jersey
- Clothing to sleep in and wear around the hut
- Lightweight shoes for inside the huts
You cannot buy food on the track.
Always make sure to take at least one extra day’s worth of food in case of delays on the track. For example, if there is bad weather or a river is flooded, you may need to wait at a hut until conditions improve.
Bring food that is lightweight, fast cooking and high in energy value. For example:
- Breakfast: cereal/porridge/oats, firm bread, honey or other spreads
- Lunch: cracker biscuits, cheese, salami, jam/jelly, fruit
- Dinner: instant soup, pasta or rice, dried vegetables or fruit, cheese or dehydrated (freeze-dried) meals.
You'll also need water.
May to late October
If attempting the Mueller Hut Route over winter, you'll need additional equipment:
- Ice axe and crampons
- Avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel
- Disposable travel toilet (available from the visitor centre) to carry out all faecal waste – the toilet at Mueller Hut may be buried in snow. Faeces do not break down in the alpine environment, and if buried in the snow, will reappear the following summer when the snow melts.
There is no equipment rental available in Aoraki Mt Cook Village.
The route to Mueller Hut is a great place for viewing alpine flowers and herb fields. With a vertical gain of 1000 metres from valley floor to rocky ridge top, there is a diversity of flora to see.
The tikapu, or Mount Cook lily (Ranunculus lyalli), makes an appearance in late November, followed by a variety of other alpine flowers. Clumps of gentian flowers appear from January onwards, and look out for the yellow Graham’s buttercup (Ranunculus grahamii), which flowers even when snow is still about. The red berries of Pratia macrodon, a small creeping herb found in rocky and stony ground, can be seen on the climb to Sealy Tarns.
Further up, the landscape changes to snow tussock and different grass species, including the curled snow tussock (Chionochloa crassiucula) and other Chionochloa species, and the South island edelweiss (Leucogenes grandiceps) can be glimpsed nestled amongst rocky outcrops.
The nearest thing to a bandit likely to be encountered in the South Island mountains is the kea, New Zealand’s alpine parrot.
Relationships between humans and kea have not always been smooth, partly because of the birds’ tendency to borrow things or analyse them to the point of destruction. People who stow vulnerable objects away and take the time to watch the kea will be treated to some first class clowning, then a flash of bright orange underwing when the antics are over.
By contrast, pīwauwau (rock wrens) are content to hop among rocks and plants in their endless quest for spiders, insects and the minute fruit of alpine plants. Despite being weak fliers they have made it to the 1300- 2500-metre zone, where they stay for the exclusive delight of people who climb that high. Not even the harshest winter forces these little birds down, as they manage to shelter and find foodbetween rocks, beneath alpine shrubs or even under a layer of snow.
Frequently seen flitting over rocky screes and ridges above the 1200-metre contour is the black mountain ringlet (Percnodaimon pluto), New Zealand’s hardiest native butterfly. Its colour is part of a sophisticated solar energy system, vital for living at such an altitude. Survival techniques include laying eggs on the underside of relatively warm stones. Most of the ringlet’s three-year lifecycle is spent as a caterpillar, which could explain the often joyful style exhibited when it finally and briefly, gets airborne.
Beautifully camouflaged grey, green or yellow wingless alpine grasshoppers are so abundant on the route up that when disturbed they can sound like the patter of rain on the grass. Species of large black spiders are common on the boulder and scree slope, but they move so fast you have to be quick to see them.
Mueller Glacier was named by Julius Haast in 1862, after Ferdinand von Mueller. Mueller was a German-born scientist and explorer who came to Australia in 1848. Mueller became a great botanical collector and writer.
Originally built in 1914, the present Mueller Hut is the fifth hut to be built with that name. The first hut was just 300 feet above the Mueller Glacier, but by 1947 it was 500 feet above the glacier and was deteriorating.
A second hut lasted just four months until it was swept away by a wet-snow avalanche. Hut debris was hauled back up from the glacier and used to build temporary quarters erected at the same spot.
The fourth Mueller Hut was built not far below the present site in 1953 and lasted until it was pulled down in 2003.
The current Mueller Hut was opened in July 2003 by Sir Edmund Hillary, and is situated just below Mt Ollivier – the first mountain Sir Edmund climbed.