Probably New Zealand’s most iconic mountain hut, the Mueller Hut is located at an altitude of 1,800m (5,905ft) on the Sealy Range, in the heart of the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. Spending a night at the hut should be on the bucket-list of any mountain-loving adventurer, since the jaw-dropping views showcase some of the South Island’s highest peaks, as well as spectacular glaciers, ice cliffs and vertical rock faces.
Type: Out-and-back hike on a challenging tramping track in steep alpine terrain. Snow-covered in New Zealand’s autumn, winter and spring seasons (often present from March right through to December). The Mueller Hut is an alpine hut with 28 bunks (fitted with mattresses but no blankets or pillows), plus cooking, lighting and outside toilet facilities. Tap water should be boiled or filtered before use.
Length and total ascent: 10.4km (6.5 miles) return trip, with 1,040m (3,412ft) of ascent. Often split into two half-day hikes, with an overnight stay at the hut.
Time: 4 hours each way, based on a moderate hiking pace
When to go: Open year-round, though from mid-November to 30 April bookings are required to stay at the Mueller Hut. Outside that period, register your intentions at the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park Visitor Centre on the day you start, for your own safety (and sign out again when you get back to avoid a search being initiated).
In New Zealand’s summer (December–February), this is a classic rock scramble and mountain hike, suitable for anyone with moderate hiking experience. In winter (June–August), it becomes a snow and ice-covered mountaineering route, requiring an ice axe and crampons, plus the ability to navigate in snow and use an avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel. In spring (September–November) and autumn (March–May), conditions are variable. Check with the Aoraki/Mount Cook Visitor Centre for current conditions.
To reach the start of the hike, get yourself to White Horse Hill car park, at the end of the Hooker Valley Road, on the way to the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park visitor Centre. Follow the Kea Point Track to the Sealy Tarns turnoff. The Sealy Tarns Track climbs gently until you reach the foot of the Mueller Range, where the track then zigzags steeply up to Sealy Tarns, a series of small mountain lakes. From here you can enjoy far-reaching views of the Hooker Valley and the surrounding peaks. On a clear day, the cloud-wreathed summit of Aoraki/Mt Cook might be visible in the distance.
From Sealy Tarns follow the orange markers, which are planted every 200 metres. Depending on the season, this will either be an uphill slog through alpine scrub and tussock to a large rock field, or a snow and ice-covered ascent requiring crampons and an ice axe.
From here the track follows a loose scree slope of about 50 metres to reach the skyline ridge, which again at certain times of the year becomes a steep snow slope. Once on the ridge, stick to the broad crest to enjoy breath-taking views of the Mueller Glacier sweeping down the valley past smaller hanging glaciers and the stunning ice shelf on Mount Sefton.
Gradually swing south towards the hut. Follow the orange markers through the basin until you see Mueller Hut itself, located about 20 minutes along the ridge. There may well be a line of boots drying outside in the sunshine, indicating the number of fellow hutters you might have for the night. It’s a convivial experience, so make the most of it – crack open a beer, cook up some supper and chat to the other hikers. Just watch out for the cheeky Kea, New Zealand’s famous alpine parrots – they’re friendly and inquisitive birds but they have a habit of stealing your food and chewing your bootlaces!
If you still have plenty of energy left in your legs after reaching the hut, it’s well worth tackling the rocky scramble along the obvious ridge behind the Mueller Hut to reach the summit of Mount Ollivier, located immediately to the south of the hut. A big cairn marks the top. This was the first peak that Everest hero Sir Edmund Hillary ever climbed, so you’re following in some famous – and illustrious – footsteps. When it is covered in snow, the long slope back down to the hut is the perfect place to practice glissading skills.
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