Sitting at 1800M on the Sealy Range, the Mueller Hut hike treats hikers to one of the most scenic alpine huts in New Zealand. With unbelievable panoramas of Mount Cook, mountaintop glaciers and surrounded ice cliffs, this is a must-do overnighter on the South Island.
It’s no secret that the Mueller Hut hike has become popular over the past few years. However, if there was a hike that truly deserves the fame, it’s the Mueller Hut Route.
From a relatively short and easily accessible hike, the Muller Hut route climbs to the top of the Sealy Range and overlooks one of the most incredible alpine areas in New Zealand.
In this guide, I’ll aim to answer all of your questions and help you to prepare to tackle the hike for free.
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Everything You Need to Know About the Hiking the Mueller Hut Route
The Mueller Hut hike is by far, one of the most scenic and accessible alpine hikes in New Zealand’s South Island. If you’re a fit and keen tramper, you’ll really enjoy this incredible hike.
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How Long is the Mueller Hut Hike?
The hike from the White Horse Hill campsite to the Mueller hut is a short, but steep 5.2KM. This is an out-and-back hike, which means that hikers will need to return on the same track.
While the DOC says that it takes 4 hours to reach the hut from the campsite, we were able to get up there within 3 hours. The descent, while hard on the knees, took us approximately 2 hours.
Mueller Hut Difficulty
The DOC rates the Muller Hut Route as an advanced tramping track. However, the DOC tends to rate hikes as much more difficult than they really are in attempts to prepare or dissuade inexperienced hikers.
The truth is that the Mueller Hut Route is not a very difficult hike. Due to its popularity, the track is very well-maintained and easy to follow in good conditions. That being said, it is fairly strenuous, as the track climbs over 1000M of elevation in about 5KM.
Besides a bit of light boulder scrambling and scree sections, the track is also not technical. You do not require any alpine equipment to hike this route in good, seasonal conditions.
Hiking to the Mueller Hut in Winter
If you are attempting the Mueller Hut in winter, then things change a little bit. Due to the elevation, much of the upper sections of the track will be slippery and icy. The climb is also mostly exposed, so it is paramount that winter hikers are prepared and monitor weather conditions. Avalanches are also common on the Sealy Range.
Remember to get weather updates and recommendations from the DOC Visitor Center in the Mount Cook Village before departing.
It is important for everyone hiking the Mueller Hut Route to register their intentions with the DOC. This can be done by stopping by at the Visitor Center in the nearby Mount Cook village and costs nothing.
This is a simple process whereby you fill out a quick form notifying the conservation group of your plans. Registering intentions is required for both campers and people staying in the hut.
This is very important because if you don’t do this, a formal search may be conducted if they find your car at the car park overnight with no intention slip lodged.
You’ll also need to remember to keep the receipt slip and return it back at the Visitor Center in the Mount Cook Village once you’ve finished the hike.
Mueller Hut Information
The Mueller Hut is known as one of the most beautiful alpine huts in New Zealand. Its red, wooden walls contrast beautifully with the snowy mountain terrain.
However, because I prefer independent camping when hiking, I decided not to stay in the hut. Still, i can definitely see why people would want to. Therefore, I’ve included all the relevant information and links you’ll need to plan an overnight stay in the Mueller Hut.
Staying in the Mueller Hut – Reservations
Between 11 November and 30 April, bookings are essential. The good news is that you can do this process online.
If you’re staying in the hut after the Mueller Hut hike, you will need to bring your own sleeping bag.
Here are the Mueller Hut fees as of April 2020. You can also check the DOC website for updated fees.
What to Eat at the Mueller Hut
If you’re staying at New Zealand overnight huts, you will need to bring your own food. Since there is water and gas cooking facilities, you can cook your food.
I’d recommend lightweight, dehydrated food such as couscous, rice, noodles or oats.
Below I’ve also included some quick tips to help you plan your hike to the Mueller Hut in the Mount Cook National Park.
Mueller Hut Packing List
Here are some essentials for hiking the Mueller Hut Route.
Doing the Mueller Hut Hike For Free
It is possible to hike the Mueller Hut Route and camp for free. I spoke to the DOC staff at the Visitor Center who told me that there are two options for those who want to camp near the Mueller Hut.
Option 1: Paid site
The first option is to pay for a camp site near the Mueller Hut. This costs $15 per person. The perks of this option is that you will get a flat spot with a surrounding rock wall near the hut. However, while there are adequate spaces, you are not actually reserving a site, hence, there is no guarantee that there will be one there for you.
Option 2: Freedom Camp
The DOC staff member I spoke to was fairly honest and straight forward. He told me that it might be a better option just to freedom camp. The rule is that you have to be 200M away from the hut. I found a few flat spots with rock walls beyond the 200M mark, so I’d recommend this option to save some money.
Mueller Hut Route Map
Below is a map of the Mueller Hut Route printed from the official DOC map online.
Here is the GPX map that I recorded on my hike to Mueller Hut. You can download the GPS track by clicking the link below.
Just remember, you should never use GPS tracks as a primary means of navigation. Terrain and conditions change in alpine conditions and therefore, the route that I took may be unpassable or dangerous in your instance.
How to Get to the Trailhead
The Mueller Hut track begins from the car park near the White Horse Hill campsite, just a few kilometres from Mount Cook Village.
The best way to get to the Mount Cook National Park hiking area is to drive here yourself. There is a large carpark here that you can leave you car for free. That being said, this carpark can get very busy in peak season, so plan to arrive early.
Luckily, if you don’t have a car, then you can still get to the Mueller Hut trailhead by booking a shuttle bus. There are a few companies that offer this service. I found Cook Connect to be one of the most popular options.
They have pick up locations in Glentanner, Twizel and Lake Tekapo. Prices for transfers range from $41 return.
Tip: For those without a car looking to save money, it’s also very easy to hitchhike to the Mount Cook National Park since there is only one way in and one way out.
What to Expect on the Mueller Hut Hike
Here’s a quick hiking guide based on my experience hiking the Mueller Hut Route.
Car Park to Sealy Tarns
You will need to follow the same track that leads to Kea Point. Keep an eye out for signs, because about 10 minutes in, the trail breaks left, which begins the Sealy Tarns climb.
This section of the hike to Mueller hut is predominantly a staircase climb. This makes it easy to traverse, but means you are also able to climb a lot of altitude in a short distance.
This section is also very exposed, meaning you’ll be forced to cop whatever the weather has in store for you.
In clear conditions, the view over the glacial moraine, Hooker Lake and of course, Mount Cook, get increasingly better as you gain altitude.
The Sealy Tarns (small, reflective mountain pools of water) are a great spot to have a short rest before continuing the climb to the pass.
The tarns make for great photo opportunities where you can catch reflections in of Mount Cook and the surrounding peaks.
Sealy Tarns to the Pass
The next section of the Mueller Hut Route is the rocky path to the mountain pass. In clear conditions, you can see your goal, the low point on the mountain range above you.
For this section, you will need to follow the orange pole markers that lead the way. Be careful when traversing the boulder and scree sections closer to the pass as they can be slippery.
Route to Mueller Hut
Once you gain the pass, you’re awarded with some spectacular views of the ice wall on the opposing mountains. There is a rocky outcrop that you can walk to just beyond the pass to the right. This spot is one of my favourites in terms of views on the Muller Hut route.
Once you’ve rested up and taken in the views, it’s only a short 20-30 minute hike to the hut. This section is mostly flat, and follows the orange markers.
Mount Ollivier Summit
An unmissable side-trip from the Mueller Hut route is to climb to the Mount Ollivier summit. This is the small peak just behind the Mueller Hut.
You can ask the hut warden or follow other hikers to find the path to the summit, which takes less than 30 minutes.
If you’re staying overnight and conditions are good, I’d highly recommend climbing to the peak for sunset or sunrise.
Best Freedom Camping Spots
For those who prefer independent freedom camping, then you will have a few options. You can either follow the route back towards the pass for 200M and look for flat ground or a pile of rocks made into windbreaks. There are a few scattered around the cliff line.
I chose to walk 200M south of the hut instead, where I was able to find approximately 4 flat spots with windbreaks just over the rocky mound blocking the view to the hut. This was actually very comfortable and as long as they are not taken, I’d recommend not paying the $15 and just grabbing these spots instead. When we camped here, we were the only tent in this spot.
Tip: A good way to make sure that you are 200M away is to use Maps.me app or just ask the warden.
For those who paid the $15 campsite fee, you are free to choose any flat ground around the hut. There are a few perfect sites with great views of Mount Cook just behind the hut near the start of the route up to Mount Ollivier.
Mount Cook Sunset and Night Sky Views
At first, I thought the views couldn’t be beaten. When sunset rolled in, I was proven wrong. We were lucky enough to enjoy perfect, calm and clear conditions on our hike to the Mueller Hut.
The views of Mount Cook, the Hooker Valley, the Hooker Lake, and the surrounding peaks are absolutely breathtaking.
Hiking the Mueller Hut Route in One Day
In my opinion, staying in the hut or camping near it is one of the best experiences you can have! However, if you are low on time or simply just want to tackle the Mueller Hut hike on a day trip, then it’s definitely possible.
In saying that, I’d suggest leaving fairly early if you want to complete the out-and-back hike in one day to ensure that you’ll have enough time to stop and admire the view.
Accommodation Near Mount Cook National park
Either after or before the overnight hike, you can either camp at the White Horse Hill Campsite, or stay in a hostel or lodge in the Mount Cook Village.
The campsite fees for White Horse Hill campsite are $15 per night per person. This is a great, cheap option as it will allow you to explore all of the other hikes and things to do in the area easily,
More Mueller Hut Images
Here are some pictures of the night sky and sunset from our campsite near the Mueller Hut.
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More Things to do in New Zealand’s South Island
I hope that you enjoyed this guide to hiking the Mueller Hut Route in New Zealand’s Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park.
If you are looking for more hikes and travel guides, why not check out some of my other articles below. Alternatively, get some more hiking inspiration by checking out this guide to the 6 Best Hike in Mount Cook National Park or the mega-guide to the best hikes in the South Island!
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